Hiring 101 Part 6 – Legal Interview Questions

In this video, Recruiting Daily Advisor Editor Stephen Bruce talks about the questions hiring managers can’t ask during interviews.

SB: This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor.

This video is the sixth in our series Hiring 101. It–and the next two–are about conducting a meaningful, legal interview.

Sometimes managers and supervisors think that there aren’t many questions they can ask in an interview; but that’s not true. You can get the information you need to make a good hiring decision. However, it is also true that there are some questions you must steer away from, generally because questions in certain areas have been found to be discriminatory.

Here are the things that you can’t ask about:

  • Name/name change. Do not ask about maiden name. You may ask if there is additional information that you need about the applicant’s name to verify education and experience.
  • Age. Do not ask age, birth date, or dates of completion of elementary or high school. Ask only whether the person is of a legal age to work.
  • Sex. Do not ask questions which indicate applicant’s sex.
  • Height and weight. Ask only if the characteristics are job related, which is rare.
  • Physical description. Do not ask about complexion or color of hair, eyes, or skin.
  • Race or color. Do not go there.
  • Birthplace and citizenship. Do not ask. You may ask whether the applicant is legally authorized to work in the U.S.
  • National origin/Languages. Do not ask questions about nationality, ancestry, or parentage. If the position requires language fluency, you may ask about written and spoken language ability. Do not ask, “Which language is your native tongue?” or any similar question.
  • Residence. Do not inquire about where people live, what type of housing they occupy, or whether they rent or own.
  • Photos. Do not ask for a photo of an applicant.
  • Physical condition/disability. Do not ask about physical or mental impairments or health. You may ask candidates to describe or demonstrate how, with or without reasonable accommodation, they would perform job-related functions. NOTE: Dealing with disabilities in the interview is the subject of a separate video.
  • Availability. Avoid questions such as, “Are you available for work on Saturdays or Sundays?” (that could be religious discrimination) or “Do you have children or child-care responsibilities?” (could be discriminatory, especially if asked just of women).You may ask if applicants can work the normal hours of the job, whether they are available for overtime (if overtime is a requirement of the position), and whether they have obligations that would prevent them from business travel.
  • Marital status/children. Avoid asking applicants about marital status, children, or anything relating to childbearing.
  • Personal finances. Do not ask about finances, including questions about home ownership or financial problems such as garnishment or bankruptcy.
  • Relatives. If you have a policy concerning nepotism or hiring of relatives, you may recite the policy and ask if the policy would apply to the applicant.
  • Religion. Do not ask any questions about religion. You may ask if the applicant can work the regular shifts of the job.
  • Arrest and conviction records. Generally, ask only about convictions. As far as barring employment based on a conviction, several states have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of arrests and convictions unless they are related to the job. Many employers include a statement on their application forms that a conviction will not necessarily be a bar to employment.
  • Education. Ask about highest grade completed, academic, vocational, or professional school attended, and certificates and diplomas earned, if required for the job.
  • Military service. You may ask about the applicant’s status as a U.S. veteran, and whether any military experience helped prepare the candidate for the position sought.
  • Organizations, clubs, associations. Do not ask for a list of all organizations, clubs, etc. Ask if applicants have any more information they would like to present to further demonstrate their ability to do the job in question. Tell applicants they may omit memberships that would identify any protected characteristic.
  • Sickness and attendance. Do not inquire how many days a person missed due to illness. You may ask whether he or she can meet your attendance requirements. In addition, you may ask about the applicant’s attendance record, that is, “How many days were you absent?” You also may ask questions designed to detect whether an applicant abused leave. For example, you may ask, “How many Mondays or Fridays were you absent last year for any reason except approved vacation leave?”

Whew! That’s quite a list!

The general rule is, avoid discussions about non-job topics. It’s information you really don’t want.

Be sure to view the next video in our Hiring 101 series—about how to come up with great interview questions.

For detailed guidance on hiring and all your HR challenges, we recommend

This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor.